John McCain will keep a light campaign schedule for the next few days, but the Republican nominee-in-waiting has no intention of conceding Democratic National Convention week to his rival, Barack Obama.
McCain plans to use late-night comedy and local newspapers to reach out to voters in swing states, hoping to slow Obama's momentum and pound home ramped-up criticism of his Democratic rival. He also plans to make an appearance with reggaeton artist Daddy Yankee.
Obama clearly takes center stage during convention week, but McCain's advisers hope to use even that to their advantage by painting Obama as an overexposed celebrity receiving fawning press coverage. And if that doesn't work, McCain still has a running-mate announcement in his pocket.
McCain strategist Sarah Simmons set the expectations: "Obama's stadium address on Thursday - the 45th anniversary of Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.'s 'I Have A Dream' speech - will result in effusive and overwhelming press coverage. ... This coverage will be impenetrable and will undoubtedly impact the polls." Another McCain adviser said the campaign plans to take pokes at the press coverage to rile up media-skeptical supporters.
The campaign recently renewed its celebrity theme with a Web video mocking the first-term Illinois senator as "The One." Rife with biblical references and sarcasm, the ad links Moses parting the Red Sea with Obama bodysurfing while on vacation in Hawaii.
"'The One' returns, this time to lead us to the road to Denver," the ad says, a not-so-veiled reference to the Road to Damascus. "In Denver, you will see the light."
The tongue-in-cheek ad is only appearing on the Internet and is meant to underscore what the McCain camp believes is pro-Obama coverage. With more than 15,000 reporters in Denver to cover the Democrats' convention, McCain advisers said they will use the coverage as yet another way to show McCain as the underdog.
Republican officials around the country took their cue and started repeating the complaint. In Ohio, where McCain has announced a 10,000-person rally for Friday, Republican Party executive director Jason Mauk dutifully repeated McCain's criticism of Obama.
"We will encourage voters to look beyond the glamour of Barack Obama's celebrity status to his inexperience and lack of accomplishment," said Mauk, a veteran of Ohio politics. "Even Democrats in Ohio are calling on Senator Obama to offer something more than a lofty speech. Ohioans are beginning to wonder if there's anything more to Barack Obama than his trusty TelePrompTer."
For reporters not in Denver, McCain's campaign planned to hit "The Tonight Show with Jay Leno" in Burbank, California, on Monday and a fundraiser in Sacramento. He planned to take short day trips from his condo in Phoenix and then leave Thursday for rallies in must-win states Ohio, Pennsylvania and Michigan. While there, McCain will talk with local reporters and make his case as the outspent, outmatched straight shooter.
But McCain isn't necessarily the underdog any longer.
The Arizona Republican has drawn about even with Obama in public polling _ a reward, some say, that comes from imposing discipline on the candidate. No longer does he joke with the reporters covering him or engage in hours-long conversations that often distract from message-of-the-day themes.
His public schedule has been almost empty in recent days, with only quick runs for coffee and filming of campaign commercials at his ranch here. He also taped a television interview at his cabin and attended church on Sunday.
His advisers and aides, however, hit Obama hard. On Sunday, the campaign released an ad featuring one-time rival Hillary Rodham Clinton's words against Obama - a move condemned by a Clinton spokeswoman.
An Obama spokesman says the strategy isn't one coming from a place of strength.
"Hiding out in one of your seven houses while your surrogates launch more low-road attacks is not a surprising strategy for John McCain," said spokesman Hari Sevugan. "But given his shocking disconnect with the struggles of American families, John McCain would be better served using this time to rewrite his economic plan that was authored by an adviser who thinks we are a 'nation of whiners' and which offers nothing more than the same failed Bush economic policies of the last eight years."
McCain advisers said he wanted to stay close to home this week and finish picking a running mate. Former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney and Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty were under serious consideration.